Harvey Weinstein: Sad, Senile, Barely Surviving The Next Big Thing

Or so goes today's lacerating NYT piece on The Weinstein Company's fate, "The Weinsteins Scamble to Regain a Golden Touch in Hollywood." Like old Miramax films, it's juicy, exciting, illuminating, and troubling. It also lays their survival strategy bare.

New York Times writer David Segal goes for the jugular with some of the contextualizing work done here. There're the great anecdotes from filmmakers the Weinsteins have worked with, like Quentin Tarantino's story about the time Harvey wanted to buy a restaurant just so he could blow smoke in the fire marshall's face:

The story killed, and when the laughing died down, Bob smiled, waited a beat and added another punch line. "A million dollars," he sighed, "for a cigarette."

Ah, the flush years. They must seem kind of distant now.

Or Weinstein loyalists like Kevin Smith sounding "wistful" about a failure to promote a film:

"They had impeccable taste when they were hungry," Mr. Smith says. "The problem is that they're not really hungry anymore. They're starving and desperate."

Or guys like the producer of Fanboys going on the record about how terribly trite he thinks the Weinstein's tastes have become:

To Dana Brunetti, who produced "Fanboys," the whole episode was a blown opportunity. "I don't think the Weinsteins understood that they had this stalwart audience of ‘Star Wars' fans in their back pocket," he says. "They just wanted the movie to be whatever had been hot the previous weekend. It was ‘Superbad' one weekend, something else the next."

All things that would've never have been mentioned in public - or private, maybe - by the talent in the Weinsteins employed in their heyday. The Weinsteins' strange fraternal relationship with each other is documented; so are moments of affability, to push home the point that Harvey and Bob aren't the bulldogs they used to be. But key to understanding the Weinsteins, and the way they keep getting by despite hemorrhaging money on failure after failure, is a scene in which Harvey's rattling off the company's slate of current and upcoming releases.

...the brothers were downright generous with me when it came to screening their coming movies. In fact, they shared as much of their slate as was ready - six movies in all, as well as ads, DVDs and rough cuts of unfinished products. The goal, they said, was to demonstrate the strength of these films. For Harvey, it also seemed as if the screenings were supposed to bolster his case if - or, perhaps in his mind, when - he had to complain about this article. We showed him everything and he still said we're doomed, was the subtext. If there is such a thing as prevenge, this is it. "You see this?" Harvey asks, pounding a finger against a sheet of paper. It's a Nielsen NRG tracking poll, a gauge of public interest in coming movies. He points to figures besides "Inglourious Basterds." Here's the G-rated version of what he says next: "This is called ‘smash hit'!"

Harvey Weinstein: Sad, Senile, Barely Surviving The Next Big Thing

Or the "next big thing" strategy, which is what they've been riding on for a while, now: sell investors on the idea that whatever comes next will, in fact, be the great success, just based on concept alone: a new Kevin Smith movie, starring the fat Jewish guy from all the Judd Apatow movies: huge! A new Holocaust movie, starring the Academy-loved Kate Winslet: blockbuster! And so on. They even take to admitting that they're nothing more than film producers, which is something they failed to realize when they tried to diversify into a multimedia company.

"What happened was, I got more fascinated by these other businesses and I figured, ‘Making movies, I can do that in my sleep,' " he says in an interview in his office in downtown Manhattan. "I kind of delegated the process of production and acquisitions. Yes, I had a say in it, but was I 100 percent concentrating? Absolutely not. I thought I could build the company and delegate authority, and that's where it went wrong."

Harvey Weinstein: Sad, Senile, Barely Surviving The Next Big Thing

But while they now praise the virtues of being scrappy, independent film producers again, it has to bruise the egos of the Weinstein Brothers. So much so, that they'd let a New York Times reporter in their buisness to get the story of their next success strategy out, and in the process, risk having to read damaging anecdotes about themselves like this one, delivered by Kevin Smith:

At the premiere [of Zach And Miri Make A Porno], he introduced Mr. Smith to the actress Sarah Chalke, which was awkward because the woman was actually Traci Lords, a co-star of the movie. "The old Harvey would never would have made those kinds of mistakes," he says. "He just wasn't as present, he wasn't minding the farm, so to speak."

The diverse business approach for a film company becoming a media company was a new trick, weakly executed by an old dog, getting older. The question then becomes something along the lines of: will they keep up? As major studios have learned the hard (and Twittered) way, making and marketing films has become an entirely different game. Can the Brothers Weinstein get with it? Or have the innovations and advances in the realm of their fundamental business - just making movies, and nothing else - already passed them by?